Nicaraguans Migrate to Costa Rica Despite Covid and Barriers

During the last few days, the exodus of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica has intensified. A recent report from Costa Rica’s Arias Foundation for Peace provides a closer look. Photo: Hector Rosales / La Prensa

By Karen Diaz Lopez (La Prensa)

HAVANA TIMES – Despite the pandemic and the resulting limitations in transportation and movement, Nicaraguan migrants continue arriving in Costa Rica. Impelled by Nicaragua’s ongoing political and economic crisis, they continue migrating in search of refuge and a source of income.

The Arias Foundation for Peace recently published an investigation of this migratory phenomenon. The report is entitled, “The face of the exiled: expelled and vulnerable”.

The Foundation’s document presents data gathered between 2018 and 2020. These statistics portray the situation of nearly 80 thousand Nicaraguans living in the neighboring country.

According to Costa Rica’s Immigration Office, Costa Rica never stopped receiving asylum requests. The applications continue despite the past year marked by the Covid-19 health crisis.

In 2018, Costa Rica’s immigration office received 23,138 requests for asylum. In 2019, the total was 31,624; and in 2020, there were 8,343 new requests for asylum. The study included the participation of 284 Nicaraguan migrants who entered the country during the pandemic. Their testimonies tell the story of their journey to Costa Rica, in search of “a better life”.

“They are people who need to work. They are also worried about their families, for what they left behind. And they have regrets about the quality of life they’ve lost.” So, states Anayanci Espinoza, academic director of the Arias Foundation for Peace.

On horseback or motorcycle

The study notes that the migrants enter Costa Rica via 51 irregular border crossings. To do so, they use motorcycles, horses, and sometimes decrepit vehicles.

Claudia Vargas is the Foundation’s coordinator and program official for Nicaraguan issues. She explained to La Prensa that “the majority of the migration is irregular. It flows from north to south, and there’s no warning that they’re committing a crime. The migrants also don’t realize that they’re being victimized by organized crime when they hire “coyotes” (guides). They don’t perceive this.”

Regarding the condition of the Nicaraguans asking for asylum, the Foundation indicates there are people in very precarious conditions. They live or sleep in the street, their food intake is deficient, they’re exploited on the job. Many others live in crowded conditions, in ramshackle rooms. The Coronavirus pandemic has aggravated these unsanitary conditions.

“The majority of the migrants are young people between 17 and 30. Many have some kind of technical or academic preparation. Once here, though, they’ve had to take jobs like in construction. They’re going through very harsh psychological and economic situations,” Vargas noted.

Consequences of the migration

The consequences of the irregular migration, the Foundation report maintains, are multiple. There’s the lack of economic resources, and the migrants’ pain, depression, uncertainty and fear. They lack support networks. Their loved ones are absent, and they’re assailed by xenophobia and aporophobia [fear of poverty and of people of lower economic strata]. “There’s an emotional problem. They – the migrants – had social status there in Nicaragua. Here, your status drops some 4 or 5 levels.” 

Another aspect that the Foundation official mentioned is that “people have an enormous expectation of returning. That makes it more difficult for them to integrate. There are some very active political groups, who are constantly tied into the situation in Nicaragua. Exile hasn’t removed them from Nicaragua. Their heart is in Nicaragua, although their body is here. Their heart and mind are there, and they’re actively engaged with everything that’s happening,” described Vargas.

Many Nicaraguan exiles in Costa Rica sleep in the streets of that country. Photo: J. Flores / La Prensa

The Foundation’s investigation concludes that, in the first place, the Costa Rican government has “offered no clear policy”. There’s little attention to the migratory situation of the Nicaraguans. Second, it concludes that there are few standardized channels of information on the subject. The illicit traffic of migrants appears not to be a priority of attention for the government right now.

Given these conclusions, the Foundation suggests greater psychosocial support for the migrant population. It also recommends that the migrant population be made more aware of existing Costa Rican legislation as regards to labor and other areas.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.